Qui-Gon Jinn and Darth Maul are two characters who were introduced in The Phantom Menace, wherein they both were killed in an epic duel. Supposedly killed, that is, as both lived on all the way up to the doorstep of A New Hope, each of them drastically affecting the growth of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Therefore, it makes sense on a surface level for Qui-Gon and Maul to having dueling comic releases. But this isn’t just a nice nod and a wink to their shared screentime. There’s much more to be found in their texts’ comparison.
Age of Republic is a limited comic series that will run through March 2019, with a hero and a villain each getting their own issue every month along with an additional special issue combining the stories of other characters. The series kicked off in December 2018 with Qui-Gon’s and Maul’s comics, entitled “Balance” and “Ash” respectively, both comics written by Jody Houser.
Not only did Houser create two solid tales that give us better looks into these characters, but she also made them rhyme. George Lucas would be proud. “Balance” and “Ash” are a dance of contrasts, following the same beats of story while united by a particular theme: the galaxy’s perception of the Jedi.
Both comics play out as:
- A mission to establish the central conflict: the restlessness of the protagonist in the role they play
- A discussion with a Master about purpose
- A vision quest
- A discussion with a Master about lessons learned
All of these highlight the contrasts between Qui-Gon, Maul, and their respective Masters, but what I want to focus in on here is the vision quest.
Qui-Gon seeks out answers himself and is willing to listen when the Force shows him something unexpected. In a place of light, he discovers a seat of dark. He sees himself become a darksider. This challenges his understanding of the Force and leads to him broadening his perspective.
Maul is ordered to find answers and immediately rejects what the Force shows him. In a place of darkness, he discovers a seed of light. He sees himself as a Jedi. This causes him to double down on his previously-held beliefs.
Through similar beats and contrasting visions, “Balance” and “Ash” shine a spotlight on the perception of Jedi as warriors. In “Balance”, it’s the driving force behind Qui-Gon’s quest. He is disturbed by the tirade of Mistress Th’er, her insistence that Qui-Gon should have resorted to violence to solve her problem. It’s not just her anger that creates her demand; it’s her expectations of the Jedi as fighters and killers.
“Even here, on Coruscant, the home of the Jedi Council, there is little understanding of our purpose. We are seen as soldiers. Servants of politicians with little mention of the Force itself.
…our actions are a reflection of our purpose. Perhaps the Jedi Council residing here in the capital is part of the problem. We are used as a weapon of the Republic and thus we are seen as such, perhaps even by ourselves.” – Qui-Gon Jinn
On his vision quest, Qui-Gon finds himself embracing the role of a warrior, and in doing so, he is consumed by the dark side. But therein he also finds hope, that the light finds its way into even the darkest of places. That is his takeaway from the vision: even in conflict, common ground can be found. Not to yield to the dark, but to find the spark of light to which he can connect. This is his advice to Mistress Th’er; not to yield to the Metal Clan, but to find allies among the city of metal.
It’s this lesson that would have served the Jedi well in the Clone Wars. In embracing the role they were handed and failing to seek the light to be found in the Separatists, the Jedi and the Republic were consumed by the dark side. Qui-Gon’s voice would have been instrumental in finding a new path, and though this comic ends on a note of hope, it’s still bathed in the shadow of Qui-Gon’s future.
As he faces Th’er’s tirade, Qui-Gon is also facing his own death. For this perception of Jedi as warriors is what drives his future murderer.
In “Ash”, this perception is a twin-edged sword for Maul. It’s likely his greatest temptation to turn on the Sith; after all, Sidious raised him to be a weapon. This is a critical part of Maul’s identity, and it’s what causes him to act as a Jedi within his vision. Even though he takes action as a hunter and not as a protector of the weak, he still saves a family from death. The temptation is reinforced when the boy calls Jedi “the greatest warriors”, including Maul in that statement.
However, it’s also the “warrior” perception that is the source of Maul’s hate. It’s reliving the countless Sith deaths in the battle of Malachor, perceiving the Jedi in monstrous forms. When he reaffirms his status as a Sith in the vision, he finds himself again facing these shadows, which only reconfirms his perception.
“Because this is what the Jedi are. A lie told to a desperate galaxy.” – Darth Maul
What Maul says is true, from a certain point of view. The “warrior Jedi” is a lie, one that the Jedi themselves are starting to believe. So there is an ironic tragedy here. Maul hates the Jedi for what he believes they are, and he kills the one Jedi who could have stopped the Order from becoming that very thing.
There are far more minute details to explore between these two comics. Jody Houser’s scripts and the art of Cory Smith and Luke Ross (and the rest of the inker/colorist/and letterer teams) weave together so well. United, the art and the script of each comic create something that is more than the sum of their parts, and I can say the same of “Balance” and “Ash” together. On their own, they are wonderful and astute character studies, but examining them in the context of their joint release reveals a much richer tapestry. If this is to be standard for the remaining Age of Republic comics, we are in for one heck of a ride.